Fulham’s Jimmy Bullard could make his long-awaited return to the Premier League on Saturday.
The influential midfielder could figure against West Ham at Upton Park after recovering ahead of schedule from the career-threatening knee injury suffered in September 2006.
His impending return is especially welcome as the Cottagers face a Premier League survival dog-fight.
But new Fulham boss Roy Hodgson has insisted he will not rush the 29-year-old back too soon.
Hodgson said: “Jimmy has played one match for the reserves this week and taken part in all the sessions.
“He’s desperate to get back into first-team action. He would have made himself available the day after he had the injury if he could!
“But we have to be careful because the competitive side of the game is not something you get a feel for during training sessions.
“We must be sure his knee will stand up to the pressure of tough tackling and being tackled when you’re off balance. That’s our major fear.
“But he’s moving on very well and we haven’t ruled him out of Saturday completely.
“It’s unlikely he’ll play because he’s ahead of schedule and our medical team have advised us to be cautious.
“But I’m certain that if I told Jimmy I needed him to play he would be the first one changed and out on the pitch.”
Bullard has only made four appearances for Fulham since his switch from Wigan in June 2006.